The 2006 World Cup was truly memorable from start to finish. Everyone remembers the way it concluded, Italy winning a tense penalty shoot-out shortly after “that” Zinedine Zidane head butt. But eleven years on (yes, it really has been that long), not many people remember the opening game of the tournament. That is essentially the point of this blog series, to highlight not only the big games, the finals, the underdog victories, but also some of the games that have fallen under the radar over time.
On a warm, sunny evening on June 9th, the World Cup 2006 hosts, Germany, kicked off a memorable game against Costa Rica, and in the process, kicked off a wonderful summer of football. Germany went into the tournament with relatively low expectations, but after being handed a group with Costa Rica, Ecuador and Poland, they were expected to qualify from Group A with ease. All three teams had the capability to be a potential slip up for the Germans, but their young coach Jurgen Klinsmann was determined not lose his first competitive game, taking over from Rudi Voller after a disastrous European Championships in 2004.
The game was less than five minutes old when Germany took the lead, and in remarkable fashion. The Germans passed the ball around the Costa Rican defence, with Tim Borowski stabbing the ball out wide to full-back Philipp Lahm, who had bombed down the left flank to contribute to the move. Lahm alternated between left and right back during his career, and consequently was a weapon with the ball on either foot. He controlled the ball effortlessly, drifted inside the edge of the 18-yard box and with his right foot, unleashed a venomous strike that soared over the goalkeeper, hit the inside of the right goalpost and bounced into the net. The Allianz Arena erupted with noise as the German fans celebrated. The number of Costa Rican fans that had travelled to the stadium were less excited, stunned by Lahm’s remarkable strike. They were facing an uphill battle from kickoff. Five minutes in and this hill had become a mountain.
The Germans lead was short-lived, however. Some neat midfield play by the North Americans saw them hold possession for the first time all game, and a clever ball over the top caught Germany short at the back. Germany had been pressing high to cut out the Costa Rican play, but right back Arne Friedrich evidently didn’t get the memo. He was a couple of yards behind the play and saw Paulo Wanchope latch onto the ball over the top. He took his time, picked his spot and slotted it past a helpless Jens Lehmann. Friedrich tried his best to recover, and so nearly did, but to no avail. 1-1, the pressure was back on Germany.
Germany’s lead lasted only seven minutes, but after being pegged back, they regained the lead again five minutes after Wanchope’s goal. Some tricky wing play from Bernd Schneider outfoxed the Costa Rican left back. He hit a pass low to Bastian Schweinsteiger on the edge of the 18-yard box. Bastian collected the ball, feinted past a defender to create space, then hit a low cross to the edge of the 6-yard box. Miroslav Klose’s outstretched boot turned the ball into the back of the net to gift Germany the lead, and gave Klose the first of his five World Cup goals that summer.
The game progressed further with Germany holding the ball for long swathes of the game. After the hour mark, Philipp Lahm picked the ball up in the Costa Rica half and drove the ball down to the touchline. He crossed the ball into the box, finding the head of a Costa Rica defender. The ball bounced off the defender’s head and looped over everybody. Everybody except Klose, who was given far too much space for a man who is a clinical goal scorer. Klose headed the ball straight at the goalkeeper, who evidently wasn’t expecting the header. He parried it out straight in front of him, creating a footrace between Klose and the defenders to see who would reach the ball first. Klose won, hitting it hard and high, ensuring that the ball would not be stopped under any circumstances. Klose’s second goal of the game put Germany 3-1 up after an hour, quashing any hope for a comeback from Costa Rica.
Costa Rica were determined not to let Germany have it all their own way, and with 15 or so minutes to go, they struck again to make it 3-2. Their first goal was borderline offside, their second goal was over the border. Arne Friedrich was again a yard off the pace, however, and with the linesman being on the opposite side of the field he evidently got confused. The former West Ham, Derby and Manchester City striker didn’t care about the question of offside, taking the ball in his stride and hitting the ball past Lehmann with the confidence and swagger of a world class striker.
The Costa Rican comeback was well and truly stamped out with three minutes of regular time to go. Bastian Schweinsteiger hit a free kick sideways to midfield maestro Torsten Frings. Frings got even better for Germany (sorry) as Torsten watched the ball come his way, and instead of moving towards it, waited for it to move in front of him. From 30 yards out, Frings struck the ball with sheer perfection. He drilled it past a crowded penalty box and past the goalkeeper, who was no closer to stopping it than any of the 65,000 fans in the stadium.
Germany 4-2 Costa Rica is the highest scoring opening World Cup fixture to date. Germany always had a sense of control, and had just shy of 60% possession, and yet it wasn’t until the 87th minute that they truly felt that they had the game won. It was an excellent game all round, with some memorable goals, particularly from Frings and Lahm. For Costa Rica, they could hold their heads high, though perhaps their forward players could hold it a little higher than the defence who were hit for four. They were certainly a long way off the Costa Rica who upset the odds in 2014. For Germany, despite taking their time to finish off the North American side, they left their fans happy. Four goals to set off their tournament was a good way to set off their tournament, and the link up play from midfield to attack would see Die
Mannschaft go all the way to the semi-finals, arguably playing the best football of the tournament.
Tomorrow’s game: June 10th. Brazil v Scotland. 1998.